NFL Wild Card Weekend Picks against the Spread
One of my cop-outs for finishing two games below .500 on my regular-season picks against the spread (121-123-12) was that I had to pick every game, even the games upon which even the most compulsive NFL enthusiast wouldn't put his or her money. With only 12 teams in the NFL postseason, however, that dynamic changes.
We have four games this weekend and they're all great matchups with teams we're happy to see on national television. After seeing the league's prime-time schedule for this past year, you'd get the impression that Roger Goodell would put the Jacksonville Jaguars in the playoffs if he could. But that isn't happening, and we have some good lines on the four wild-card games for the weekend.
Home teams are listed in all capitals. Let's do this.
HOUSTON -3 over Cincinnati
Thomas B. Shea/Getty Images
A stoppable force meets a moveable object in most likely the only playoff game the state of Texas will see this season. Both teams skidded into the playoffs; the Texans are on a three-game skid while Cincinnati has lost three of its last five.
The Bengals have only beaten one team with a winning record all season, and that was Tennessee, who somehow finished 9-7 despite finishing .500 within its division. And we can throw out the whole "Playoff Experience Matters" argument, although Cincy did win its division two seasons ago.
I'm giving Houston the edge; it's the Texans' first playoff game at home ever. Plus, they can still run the ball at will, an indispensable ability come playoff time.
Oh, and the Texans beat the Bengals in Cincy when these teams met earlier in the season.
Detroit +10.5 over NEW ORLEANS
Leon Halip/Getty Images
Ten-and-a-half points is a lot to cover in any NFL game, especially a playoff game.
But is it too much for Drew Brees—who eats opponents in nationally televised games for breakfast—at home? Even against a defense that was lit up the previous week by Matt Flynn?
Brees (oh, and the rest of the Saints) kicked the Lions around in Week 13 in that Sunday night game where Brandon Pettigrew shoved an official. The final score was 31-17, a 14-point margin of victory for New Orleans against a team that, by its own admission, beat itself.
Even in the Superdome, and even with the Saints' playoff experience, this should be a much closer game.
NEW YORK GIANTS -3 over Atlanta
Rich Schultz/Getty Images
The Falcons are 2-3 on the season in games played outdoors, which does not bode well for a team that can't get out of the first round of the NFC playoffs.
The team's lopsided draft-day deal to get Julio Jones was done specifically to address this. While the team had trouble integrating him into its scheme earlier in the season, Jones finished the year strongly with six touchdown catches in his last four games.
The Giants have baffled me all season.
They're as bipolar as any team in the NFL, playing Green Bay down to the wire and then losing to the Redskins two weeks later. The G-Men have their own deep threat in Victor Cruz, who might be the difference maker on a offense that gets Eli Manning back to the Super Bowl.
Pittsburgh -7.5 over DENVER
Garrett Ellwood/Getty Images
I actually enjoy the fact that Pittsburgh has to go on the road for this game, despite posting a better regular-season record than the Broncos. I like the NFL's logic that if a team wins its division, that team should host a playoff game. It sounds fair to me.
Ben Roethlisberger will play Sunday. Rashard Mendenhall, who tore his ACL in the team's finale against Cleveland, will not.
The luster has certainly worn off of Tim Tebow, who went 6-for-22 in last week's 7-3 loss against the Chiefs. That was Denver's third consecutive loss. After this weekend, we can make it four.